Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Oh Yeah! There was that eclipse!

I was reminded at work today that I hadn't posted about the eclipse on the blog. Full moon indicates that the solar eclipse was 2 weeks ago, so guess about time to get off my duff! I did have a brief post on the Facebook, but time to document the event on a more permanent record! While FB is convenient for everyone to look at quickly, in 5 years if you want to see what you did, it is harder than heck to find it! I think that is where the blog excels!

Yes there was that solar eclipse! When I last left you, we were moving north towards the path of totality, visiting Meteor Crater, Lowell Observatory and Monument Valley. I had texted w/my buddy Melanie, who is Navajo, about where to go in Monument Valley. She had a meeting as we visited it, but as she was driving back towards the reservation, it was obvious we'd cross paths so met in a grocery parking lot in Utah. I thought I'd impress the Russian kids by giving a hug to a seemingly random female in small-town Utah, but they seemed nonplussed. Melanie and I worked together a decade ago when she was at the Mirror Lab. It was great to see her, if only for a few minutes!

We drove through some beautiful country up through Moab, overnighted in Grand Junction, Colorado, then north into central Wyoming. With the small towns, there were few places to look for motels, so we stretched our driving, arriving in Shoshoni a little after dark on Saturday for the Monday eclipse. I had warned our hostess Karen, and she had a pot of chili and cornbread waiting for us - a feast after a long day on the road. That is her in pink in the group shot at right. That tall good-looking fellow in the center is Karen's son Kevin, who is the local sheriff, and obliged the kids by taking them on a ride in his tricked-out sheriff's truck!

Van acting as screen for crescent shadows at eclipse!
Best dressed women wear crescents!
Karen and I had been concerned about keeping the number of people that she was hosting and cooking for to a manageable number. Even as we drove north, we met people who asked if they could join our party. We had 10 in our group, and a few weeks before eclipse, I heard a good friend and her family were outside the path w/their reservations, so got Karen's permission to include them - 6 in 2 RVs. Then the day before eclipse day, our buddy Bernie called and asked about joining us. I was originally going to depend on him as he had reservations in Wyoming AND Nebraska, and I was going to take the one he didn't use for our group. After Meeting Karen at the Grand Canyon Star Party, I didn't need his reservations. Turns out he didn't like the weather forecast and wanted to move west towards our group in Shoshoni. Hostess Karen overheard us telling him that he couldn't join us, and made us invite him and his what, 6 additional watchers, bringing us up to 22 that Karen was caring for (and using their one bathroom!). She pulled it off in a great way, and best of all said she had the time of her life taking care of us - can't hear better news than that!

My setup showing morning clouds
It's a solar eclipse Party!
I set up my mounting the day before the eclipse - I needed to align the mount to Polaris so it would track accurately on the sun. Since it was a big change from Arizona (43 degrees north vs. 32 degrees in Tucson), it might have taken a while, but fortunately I had preset it approximately before leaving. As a result, Polaris was in the field of the alignment scope, making for quick work. One of Bernie's group had an 8" scope and entertained Karen's girls and some of the neighbor kids with views of Saturn - impressive even under the streetlight we were set up under!

Eclipse day dawned partly cloudy, but mostly clear, so we all had high hopes of seeing a good eclipse. It turns out that the school across the road was hosting a national webcast of the solar eclipse that would appear on I believe the Fox Business channel. With all the international kids we had with us (my 6 Russians plus the two girls from my friend Karen (in the RV) who are from the Netherlands). They went over to take part in the online event, and totality in our yard was oddly kid-free!

The partial phases were a blur - I took a few photos, but was still concerned about running 3 cameras with only 2 hands! I also took a few photos of the group with my cell phone, though some used their cell phones to try to photograph the eclipse through the 8" scope or the filtered binoculars, with mixed success... This is Bernie in both of these photos checking the progress of the partial phase at left in the filtered binoculars, and taking a cell phone snap at right.

Most of the country observed some partial blockage of the sun. So the early parts are very similar all over the country. The color of the sky seemed to take on a weird cast as the sun slowly disappeared. While most of the country observed this effect most all stopped and reversed at some point, for us and those along the 60 mile or so wide path, we took a dive into darkness!

But the partial phases lasts well over an hour, so we got to lounge a bit, at least those who were doing visual observations. At left Bre and Michelle lounged and enjoyed a bag of popcorn while waiting for the REAL show to begin! Our hostess Karen, who thinks of everything, had a little popcorn machine setup for us!

At right, Bre and Roy do the promotional portrait. Unfortunately, I didn't take these photos, but I can't remember whose FB page I stole them from!

Finally the moon's shadow caught up to us in Shoshoni, and it was safe to observe the sun directly. Filters were ripped off and the corona of the sun was observed with the naked eye. It was glorious! This was the first eclipse I've seen in totally clear skies, and it makes a big difference! Bernie took video, and while he seemed to be easily distracted, it is fun to note all the changes you didn't notice looking thru the camera viewfinder, like the streetlights coming on, and the visual impressions people were noting, and of course, the screaming! Click here to go to his video!

As far as my photos go, the key to get good eclipse images is to take multiple exposures with different exposure lengths to record the full range of brightness, from the brilliant prominences that stretch out from the sun's surface, to the faint outer traces of the sun's corona, and in fact, the face of the earthlit moon! You often see the unlit side of the moon when it is a skinny crescent. It is caused by light reflected off the earth, and the effect is maximized at new moon - and you can't get any newer than a total solar eclipse! The corona shot at left is a combination of 3 frames of different exposures to better show how the sun's atmosphere looked to the eye. At right are the prominences that were very visible just before the sun's photosphere returned.  The red blips at the edges are mostly hydrogen carried upwards away from the sun's surface by the intense magnetic fields of the sun. These should be considered preliminary images as they were made from jpegs. I'm still working on the raw images that should be better...

I'm closing out with a flash spectrum - as the brightest part of the sun (photosphere) is just covered, the "neon pink" of the sun's chromosphere is briefly revealed. This transitional layer of the sun has an emission spectrum, where chemical elements are revealed by bright lines, as shown at the image at left. The red, aqua and purple lines are from hydrogen. The bright yellow line is from helium. In an instrument similar to my little spectrograph, helium was first observed on the sun before being known on the earth, thus the name (helium : helios, meaning sun). Unfortunately I hadn't noticed that the camera clamp had loosened at some point of the process and a large part of the spectrum is slightly out of focus. I'm going to look at these raw images too, and try some stacking techniques to sharpen, but I might just have to wait 7 years to the next solar eclipse in April of 2024!

So all-in-all it was a spectacular event. Those that ventured back out on the roads after the eclipse were treated to massive traffic jams. We camped out another day and by then the roads were fine, almost normal again. But it was certainly a highlight of the year!

1 comment:

Karen A Rieman said...

It was with great pleasure to host this group of incredible people. It started out being a way for my husband and I to give our girls an opportunity to learn from others. Which it inspired them and neighbor children. But what this experience gave me was more than can be described. I grieved for days after everyone was gone. I will never forget it. Looking forward to seeing you all at the Grand canyon star party! This time you can meet the person that made this happen for us. Rod worked overtime as much as he could so I could remodel the bathroom and other areas of our house. We're blessed. Thanks to him we met Dean. Rod is a ranger at the Grand canyon. Again thanks Dean and others for what you do so others like our family can have the time of our lives. Much love and big hugs